Monday 22nd December 2014,
Cult Football

A CultFootball Roundtable: Demba Ba, Agents, Money Business–How Loyalty May Miss the Point

Rob Kirby January 5, 2013 Commentary, England, Preview, transfers Comments Off

Some CultFootball roundtable reactions to a Telegraph piece on Ba leaving Newcastle for the money (and why shouldn’t he?):

Tyler:

Roman and Demba, cut from similar cloth?

The Cunning Linguist:

No way!

That article reeks of the old love of the game mentality and “where are English players in the EPL” rant. Ba went to a club that may play Champs League and will get paid more money while slotting into the lone striker role in a 4-2-3-1 set up as opposed to the 4-3-3 of Newcastle.

Football’s a business, a money business. 7.5mm quid for a 13 goal scorer is good business. That said, I’d have preferred to see a recall for Lukaku as I think he can spell a clearly tired and out of confidence Torres.

Lally (aka Political Footballs):

Also, Newcastle put the release clause in the contract whilst not guaranteeing him money if he didn’t play because of his suspect knees. He didn’t engineer the move, merely agreed terms when Chelsea matched the price Newcastle had set for him.

Suman:

I agree with Cunning Linguist that football is a money business, up to a point. If we can get all Clintonian up in here, it depends on what your definition of “is” is. (This also recalls, I think, a class THC & I took together at UofC in analytic philosophy…remember that Tyler? More on that topic to come soon.)

I’d agree if you say professional club football at this moment in time (what some people call “modern football”?) is a money business. but certainly we can agree (can we?) that it’s not been true of club football at all times, and certainly not of our Saturday morning “Mario’s Incredible Liga Fabulosa” matches.

So actually I suppose it depends on what you mean by “football.”

Tyler:

Of sense and reference“,  Frege I believe. Can’t recall the course title.

No arguments against any of the above. Could have easily replaced “Roman” with Walcott/RVP/Nasri. Ba seems risky to me but I think that’s due to his poor form second half of last season. It’s certainly not a bad deal given the relatively low price for him (depending on one’s definition of “low”).

The link was in an Arsenal blog about transfers and I had only skimmed before posting it. After reading further, there seems to be a decent amount of conjecture about team dynamics at Newcastle. Not mentioned in the piece, unfortunately, was that Ba reportedly has 5 agents that will benefit from the deal, which I think was the “what the fuck” moment that made me want to send the link to begin with.

Cunning Linguist:

That’s actually a pretty fair point. The side “business” of holding shares in an individual and multiple business consortiums engineering moves to churn fees is pretty disgusting. Remember the Mascherano and Tevez deals that were churned through West Ham by Kia Joorabchian? Wasn’t Pardew boss at WH back then, or am I misremembering? That agent shit is outta control. Didn’t Big Sam’s son have some involvement with agent fees or some shit?

Tyler:

Arseblog has mentioned repeatedly that Theo is being led astray by his agent. He’s getting everything he wants, he’s been the striker and scored or assisted in each of the last four games, he’s the team’s leading scorer, and he’s paid pretty well. But still no new contract. No legit title contender (Manchesters) will sign him, he probably wouldn’t start for Chelsea, and Liverpool will barely miss out on the top four this season. So it’s not about trophies, it’s about money. He’s a decent and honest guy it seems, but he’s young and marketable, so the money-grubbing agent influence is believable.

Digress… I like the Lukaku idea, and I will be paying attention to Ba’s integration into his new team. After all, isn’t Chelsea the soccer world’s favorite science experiment?

Gu, I think the course was actually called, “Introduction to analytical philosophy”. Is the morning star the same as Venus, unicorns do and don’t exist, etc.

Rob:

The deal with the agents is that there’s not much incentive in them telling the player “you’re happy here, there’s no reason to move and generate a fee from which I’ll take a nice 10% cut.” They can’t do it so often that they run afoul of the player through particularly bad advice, but the move argument is certainly good for a couple paydays.

Then with Ba and others where there may be more than one agent (he’s the only one I’ve heard of, but I imagine there are others), one is a family member, one is the guy they brought in because what real experience does the family member have except for the ear of the player, and so on–I can see where it gets really convoluted really quickly.

Then for Arsenal players, they bring on Darren Dein (of Henry, Cesc, RvP & Song departure fame, and son of someone or other), and it’s history.

Piggybacking on what Cunning Linguist said earlier about an old view of club loyalty vs. a modern view, when it comes down to it the globalization of the Premier League in terms of audience, but especially in terms of talent pool, it means that few of these guys are playing for their boyhood clubs. They won’t be retiring after many years of service and reentering the town community, running into fans at pubs for the rest of their lives–or running the pub–as once it may have been. Ba is from Senegal, he’s probably supporting/subsidizing a huge contingent of family, he grew up neither a West Ham nor a Newcastle fan, and if his knee had detonated on him, he would have been cut loose on the spot. I get wrapped up in my hopes for what certain players will do for Arsenal, but with Adebayor, for example, I now respect the fact that he refused to lower his wage demands or fall for any sympathy plays. I think he’s delusional on some levels, but on a money level, he’s right on. I didn’t like it when he did it to us, but I understood his position more when he messed with City (which, really, was just awesome to witness). He wasn’t going to make it easy for them, because he knew he didn’t have to. He has a couple years to make cash, his country is a mess, he knew his negotiating position. Even if he’s not a grade-A humanitarian, building hospitals around Togo (although I think he did fund one), he knows where his allegiances lie: to himself, his extended family, and then far later in the list people like Wenger, Mancini etc.

I used to really dislike Drogba until I learned more about his off-the-field persona. He’s actually an awesome dude. And then I could see how awesome he was on the pitch after shedding my dislike of his diving or continual single-handed reaming of the Arsenal defense year after year.

Anyway, this is a rare moment of perspective. I’ll be fuming about how disloyal some departing player is soon enough, I’m sure.

Suman:

One quick note–the bit about “few of these guys are playing for their boyhood clubs. They won’t be retiring after many years of service and reentering the community, running into fans at pubs for the rest of their lives, as once it may have been” echoed, ironically, Jonathan Wilson’s column about the Zenit fans’ open letter.

The opening paragraphs, in case you didn’t read it before:

Let’s imagine that fans of Sunderland (and I use the example purely because that is who I support), tiring of the constant churn of the transfer market, decide that enough is enough and they want their team to do things differently. They get together and hammer out a manifesto which they then post as an open letter to the club hierarchy. Among a number of points about the need for absolute commitment and an abhorrence of cheating, they suggest they would rather the club focused on local players.

How would the world regard that? Some might argue that is not the most efficient way to run a club in the modern game but most would surely accept that, if nothing else, a strong local identity can help foster a sense of common purpose. Athletic Bilbao select only Basque players while Barcelona are proud of their Catalan core; why shouldn’t Sunderland fans dream of a team built around half a dozen Wearsiders?

Larry:

I have just one question.  Without Ba’s presence already at Newcastle, does Cisse sign there?

Edhino:

Y’all can think wishfully all you want to, hark back to the good old days of club and community loyalty, but the political economy of modern football will ensure a tiered class system of wealthy clubs amassing known talents, mid-level clubs with canny ‘value’ hunting managers (like Wenger) punching above their weight, and the rest pitifully swearing to virtues of local talent as an excuse for their empty coffers. But rather than lamenting this unequal state of football affairs, I forfeit bourgeois sympathy for the underdeveloped clubs and embrace the opportunity for beautiful football that unfettered markets create in the elite level. Who cares about Leeds role in Yorkshire talent development – I wish a rich sheikh would buy it and fill it full of Drogbas and Messis so I can watch the best football that money can buy.

Cunning Linguist:

Preach!

Political Footballs:

You guys did that. It was called the 2000/2001 season. Fat Aussie wanker.

George:

But does a class system not truly offend us at some level?  Yes, sport is not intended to celebrate mediocrity. As much as the super rich clubs have injected quality into the game by assembling an  array of talent until then only imagined in school yards (or fantasy soccer leagues), the gulf between the haves and have nots is so large that it’s a fantasy to think someone other than the big 3 will win it.  “Hey, you never know”. That tagline sells a lot of tickets–and I guess the EPL hopes so too.

I don’t know what happened/went wrong with the likes of Preston North End and Huddersfield Town. Perhaps this current crop of champions will be a memory in years to come. I can only hope.

Tyler:

Without going back through each and every post, I don’t think there has been much yearning for the good ole days in our posts. Cunning Linguist and Rob have made valid points with regard to agents and self-preservation/securing one’s and one’s family’s future.

I too used to HATE Drogba the Gunner Killer, then read about what he’d done for his country, saw him mature on the field, watched him beat Munich, and now he’s a sporting hero of mine. The only problem I have with him moving to China is that now I can’t watch him. Maybe I’d be more upset if I supported Chelsea, but I doubt it. He left at his peak.

That says something about loyalty, I suppose. I shouldn’t like him, right? But at the end of the day sport is, among other things, entertainment and glory and he provided ample amounts of both.

What is loyalty? I chose Arsenal because I discovered FSC and the first thing I saw was Henry change direction and cause two defenders to lose their footing and fall. Then I saw that year’s squad was Invincible. I rooted for France and recorded every WC game of theirs because of Henry, I had recently been to France, I watched more Arsenal the next year and loved what I saw. I know nearly nothing about North London; the most time I’ve spent in England was sleeping on the floor of Gatwick airport, but that’s my team and it always will be.

(I’ll pause and wait for the scoffing to end.)

When some of us complain about player loyalty in this era, we might feel scorned because we expect that the player knows us like we know him. We forget he’s not our buddy, we spend money and set aside our time to watch him while he makes more and more money and has so much time to enjoy a rich and famous lifestyle while never knowing us. We think he should repay our loyalty but he has his own loyalties.

So I sent the Ba link with no comment save for a comparison between him and Abramovich. At least we know where they stand as individuals who want to be successful financially and competitively no matter who gets in their way. The issue we Gooners have with Nasri is that he used the team to get where he is then trashed the team and its fans. So he’s a disrespectful juvenile who we thought was our buddy but he wasn’t, and we moved on (but we love that he was ejected last game because we thought he was once our buddy). Our problem with Adebayor is similar; he has character and temperament flaws and he really provided a reality check for sure–oops, not our buddy! We moved past it and now he just seems sad.

RVP, Theo, Wenger, Arsenal as an organization, the problem we have with them is that they say one thing and do another, but they want us to stay their buddy. Or, they actually say nothing and let us guess, pretending to hope we are their buddy while secretly not caring? Yet they give us just enough to hold on to and because we want entertainment and glory we put up with it, rationalize it, and somehow love it no matter how dysfunctional it gets. We hope!

The reason we’ll never question Cesc or have a problem with him is that we knew where he stood. He proved his loyalty by chastising Spanish press for misquoting him against Arsenal. Henry won everything he could with Arsenal and left to win that one last trophy. We understood and he proved loyalty by returning. They gave us beginning and end and were a bit clearer about it than the others.

Years ago I decided, only half-jokingly, that for fairness and entertainment’s sake, the MLB and the Olympics should offer two separate competitions, one for the purists and one for the dopers. Entertainment and glory would abound, and we would know where they, and we, stand.

A “super fantastic Blatteristic Euro league” full of the big money teams? Why not? (Ahem, next roundtable topic?) Entertainment and glory for sure, talent and competition through the roof. Just don’t expect anyone you’re watching to be your buddy.

Loyalty… I once hated Peyton Manning simply because he was THAT good, a Broncos killer. (For the same reasons as Kobe to the Nuggets but not nearly as vile. Sports heroes are villains because they’re heroes to someone.) But now Peyton is totally my buddy! He’s curious about what I’m having for breakfast and I’m pretty sure we’re going to see “Les Mis” after the Super Bowl. I’m sure of it!

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About The Author

Rob writes about soccer to discover why it's so wildly popular in America and yet so scorned everywhere else.

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